Mack-Cali Names Mahbod Nia as CEO, Replacing MaryAnne Gilmartin
Mack-Cali Realty Corporation named Mahbod Nia, the former head of NorthStar Realty Europe Corp. (NRE), as its new CEO, replacing MaryAnne Gilmartin, who stepped in on an interim basis this past summer after a proxy fight.
Nia will take over as head of the New Jersey-based real estate investment trust (REIT) starting on March 8 and Gilmartin — who also runs her own firm MAG Partners — will stay on as a special adviser. Gilmartin also stepped down as chair of Mack-Cali’s board and was replaced Tuesday by Tammy K. Jones, co-founder and CEO of Basis Investment Group.
“I am thrilled to lead Mack-Cali through this next chapter,” Nia said in a statement. “I believe there is substantial value embedded within Mack-Cali, and, together with the board, we are well-positioned to navigate the path to unlocking that value for shareholders over time.”
Nia has served as a director of Mack-Cali since June, and previously was the head of NRE for more than four years. He also spent time at Colony Capital.
“The powerful combination of Mahbod’s experience as a successful CEO of a public REIT and deep familiarity with Mack-Cali having served on the board, will enable him to hit the ground running,” Jones said in a statement. “His proven management expertise and track record of creating shareholder value — most recently as CEO of NRE, through repositioning, leasing, and transacting in the sector — make him the ideal executive to lead Mack-Cali forward.”
While at NorthStar, Nia reduced the REIT’s leverage by more than half, drove leasing to its portfolio, and oversaw its sale to AXA Investment Managers in 2019, according to Mack-Cali.
The shakeup at Mack-Cali started in 2019 when investment firm Bow Street Capital, which owns a roughly 4.5 percent stake in Mack-Cali, started a proxy battle to install more members on the board after Mack-Cali turned down a $2.4 billion takeover that would’ve spun its office portfolio into a separate REIT, The Real Deal reported.
Bow Street eventually succeeded and got four members on Mack-Cali’s board, including Gilmartin. Gilmartin previously told Commercial Observer that once she joined, it was clear a simple shakeup couldn’t fix the company, which was saddled with a huge debt load and a high vacancy rate at its properties.
“It turned out to be a lot harder to make a difference just because of the way the board was structured,” Gilmartin said. “Once you’re inside, while you’re not under the hood inside the company, you start to appreciate how governance works, the board dynamic; the level of engagement on the part of the board members and all that, to me, was deeply disappointing and there was lots of room for improvement.”
Bow Street wrote an open letter in March 2020 to oust Mack-Cali’s then-CEO Michael DeMarco. In July, DeMarco left and Gilmartin took over as interim CEO, with Jones being named the lead independent director of the REIT.
While at the helm, Gilmartin tried to quicken Mack-Cali’s strategy to sell off suburban office holdings to shore up its balance sheets, and focus on multifamily and office properties in higher-density waterfront areas like Jersey City and Weehawken.
Since Gilmartin started, Mack-Cali sold off office properties in Madison, Florham Park and Morris Park, N.J., along with residential properties in Arlington, Va., and New Brunswick.
She tapped legendary CBRE broker Mary Ann Tighe to help oversee a New Jersey-based team to lease up the Harborside campus in Jersey City, and brought on Rockefeller Group veteran Edward Guiltinan as head of leasing for Mack-Cali.
“I joined Mack-Cali to drive change in an organization with great potential, and we have done that, meaningfully improving leadership and governance to enhance shareholder value,” Gilmartin said in a statement. “The achievements of the past year are among the highlights of my career, empowering the company’s talented team to execute the board’s strategy in a safe and productive manner during an unprecedented pandemic.”
Gilmartin said she will return her “full focus” back to MAG Partners.